Morel Mushroom Hunting 101

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In Iowa, we are about halfway through our morel mushroom season.  With the warm weather we’ve had, it’s been the earliest season for morels we’ve seen in a long time.

Foragers are scrambling to get out after work and during the weekends to hit all the local state parks and personal “spots” in hopes of taking home hundreds of this prized fungus.

I don’t know what they like better, the taste, the hunt, or the bragging rights.

I have to admit, I’ve found myself right in the mix, hoping to find the “jackpot” for many years now.  This year people have found pounds, others a few.  Myself, I’ve been able to forage a couple dozen in one spot.  Being 7 1/2 months pregnant with two little ones in tow, I think we’ve done okay.

I want more though, so I’ve been focusing this year on learning from the “pro’s.”

You know, the backwoodsman that claims to find hundreds every year.  As enlightening as it is to learn from these people one thing you’ll find out really quickly is they will NEVER share their spot.  So if you’re a newbie you can learn from them, but then you have to go at it alone.

I found that out the hard way.  Always hoping to tag along with someone.  Learn from experience.

Nope, this isn’t the game for that.  So this year, I went out with confidence and realized there is so much more to foraging morel mushrooms than just searching in the woods.

There’s strategy in location and also rules of foraging mushrooms the right way so that they will continue to grow in your “spot” year after year.  Can you see how this can become addicting.

Let’s begin.

1. Location

Where do you go?

You can always ask people where you can find morels and they’ll give you pretty generic answers.  This state park or near this place but they will NEVER reveal where they go.

This is the most difficult part of foraging for morels and has taken me a few years just to find one okay spot. (Don’t ask me, I won’t tell you where it’s at.)  I’m still trying to find a new “spot” that I can return to year after year.

When finding a spot, here’s what you need to look for…

1. Elm trees.  Specifically dead, bark falling apart, elm trees.


As the bark falls off the trees it nourishes the ground below it leaving nutrients that morels thrive in.  The roots of a dead elm also bring nutrients to the soil around it.  This is thought to advance the 5 year cycle it takes for a morel mushroom to grow.

One way to note a dead elm is the white snowy flesh left underneath the bark.  Morels can be growing within a 15 foot radius of the tree.

Wherever there are elms that’s where you need to start.

You can try visiting state parks, however, they do get flooded with foragers.

What’s been working for me (hint, hint) is walking the bike trails.  The bike trails in Iowa are great locations to walk off path look around and continue walking.  They’re less visited and if you have small children, they can take their bikes, hunt with you, and continue along as well.

Here’s a good photo I found on flickr of a dead elm tree.

Big Dead Elm Tree



2. Dress Not To Impress


When going out into the woods dress appropriately.

  • Good shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy.
  • A ball cap.  There are ticks in the woods.
  • Long pants.  There’s also poison ivy, thorns on bushes, and tall brush.
  • A good thing about this time of year is there are not that many bugs out so wearing bug repellant is up to you.

3. The Hunt


The best time to go out hunting is after a good rain and the temperatures are right around 70 degrees.  The soil is warm and moist which leads to perfect growing conditions for the morel.

Earlier this week was perfect, but the ground is now drying up so we’re hoping for a good rain tomorrow to keep the yellows popping.

There are different kinds of morels.  The first to appear are small and gray.  Those are followed by larger yellow ones.  The season generally lasts 2-4 weeks.

The trick is to search low and slow.  Using a stick or even getting down on your knees.


(My sister forgot her hat.  She had to make sure to check her head for ticks immediately after leaving.)

15 feet in diameter around a dead elm is where they are most abundantly found.  However, they can also be found in old apple orchards, in sandy river bottoms, near shrubs and under ash, aspen, oak, beech, maple, cottonwood or cherry trees or even pines.

If you find one, you’ll usually find more around them.  So be careful where you step.

Also, if you find some morels in an area, return the next day.  New ones literally pop up overnight.

The Rules


One thing I learned from literally being scolded at is to always use a mesh bag to collect your morels.  This allows the hundreds of thousands of spores on the caps to fall back to the Earth.  Hopefully allowing more morels to grow in the same area for more years to come.


It takes time and patience to find morel mushrooms.  Many of us newbies go out with the expectations of walking into the woods and finding them by the hundreds.

Really, some days you can go out and not even find one.  It’s going to take time to find a spot, learn to “see” them, and then go out more than just one time per season.

However, the hunt is so much fun and if you do find a “spot,” take care of it. Allow those spores to fall back on the Earth and most importantly, don’t tell anyone where it’s at 😉

Do you go morel mushroom hunting?  How long did it take you to find a good “spot?”  Please share any tips as well :)

21 Responses to "Morel Mushroom Hunting 101"
  1. Wow! What an exciting adventure for the boys! This reminds me a bit of hunting for truffles.

  2. Wonderful post! I went mushroom hunting just for photography purposes here last fall and had such a blast. They are gorgeous and mysterious.

  3. Eric says:

    I’ve heard of folks training dogs to find them too!

  4. susan larsen says:

    lots of Morels in Idaho look where there has been a fire in the past ….or by standing deadwood…low mountain areas

  5. I’ve been thinking about hunting morels, but have never actually done it. One of these days! Thanks for the tips.

  6. Cranky Puppy says:

    Believe it or not, we found HUGE morels in our backyard this year. We had cut down a tree a couple of years ago and left some of the bigger logs. When we moved them to get rid of them, we found about a dozen gargantuan morels under a log that was resting partially on top of another one. It gave them just enough sheltered space and awesome composting soil to grow there. Kinda cool, considering we live in downtown Kansas City.

  7. Anne says:

    I just wanted to add that wearing a hat does not keep you safe from ticks. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not fall out of trees onto your head. They are all over the place – on the ground, on plant leafs, etc. One thing we do is to tuck our pant legs into our socks and then spray bug repellent on the outside of your clothes (another reason to wear grubby clothes.) Then when you get home, disrobe before you get in the house if you can. Tick-check each other – they love all hairlines, between toes,armpits and moist areas of the body.

  8. Mely says:

    You are tempting me to go out and check the woods outside my window. Wondering if there is something out there edible is in my mind often.



  9. My dad used to take my brother and I morel hunting when we were younger. Saddly living in the Centeral Valley of CA when never found very many. My poor Missouri raised dad still misses them! Thanks for sharing your tips and adventure!

  10. J. Williams says:

    I’ve been mushroom hunting on my Granny’s land since I was tiny. My first hunt, I guess I didn’t quite get the idea. Every time my dad let me pick a mushroom, I would grab one out of the basket and ‘plant’ it in that spot, and it was several hours before Dad realized that the number of ‘shrooms we had wasn’t increasing.
    Now, twenty years later, my Granny has terminal lymphoma, and it’s not clear if she’ll even make it to spring. One of her favorite things in the world is morel mushrooms, and I’ve vowed to bring her more than she could ever eat, no matter how far I have to go or how long I have to search to find them. And even if she’s gone by the time the mushrooms come, I’ll bring them to her just the same. I’ve always just kind of hunted on intuition and I usually do pretty well, but I’m not taking any chances this year and I’m doing research and preparations way ahead of time.
    So, wish me luck, yeah?

  11. Rebecca says:

    My husband and I had the most amazing luck with morels this past spring! It was our first season hunting and our first day out we found a huge bounty! We were so happy to immediately find a spot! Your tips are great! Hopefully I’ll find a few more spots this year!

  12. Lloyd says:

    How can we identify morels from ‘false’ morels which can make one very sick…?

    • Diana Bauman says:

      You can identify false morels pretty easily. Their caps are disfigured, odd shaped and very brown in color. If it doesn’t look like a perfect sponge like cap, I would not eat it.

      • Tony says:

        Also, morels are completely hollow, from the stem all the way up to the top. False morels stems are fibrous inside, and the cap is only attached at the top of the stem (google for images of cross-sections, and it will be obvious).

        Lastly, as with all mushrooms – when in doubt, DON’T EAT IT!

  13. randy weiland says:

    Elms are good, and you are right, DEAD Elms are really where it’s at in the Elm business. However, LIVE Ash, and Poplar trees are usually much easier to come by. Also, for people in hill country, I’ve found that while North facing hillsides are later in producing, they produce better once the start….That’s about all I can add to what’s already been said. Happy Hunting!

  14. Anni says:

    I’d love to try morel hunting for the first time this year. I’ve always been nervous around mushrooms (the whole idea of accidentally picking up poisonous mushroom instead of an edible one is a little scary). But maybe, just maybe, I can get some good advice from someone local.

  15. Robert says:

    Great site! I just wanted to address the long held belief that Morels “literally pop up overnight” as you stated. It is quite a popular thing to say. The truth is that they do not. They grow in about 12 to 15 days!

  16. Eventfulest says:

    Great article, my second season morel hunting in SW Michigan. So far nothing, and only found maybe 2 dozen last year. Hopefully with these tips I can find some this season before it’s over!

    For the ticks I use rose oil, on myself and my dogs, it works great! Apply a dab in a few different spots on your body, (neck, wrist, ankles etc.) each time you go out. Better for your skin and body vs chemical bug repellent. I also heard that you should cut the morel just above the surface so the root is intact and will grow again for next year. Wish I’d known that last year!

    Happy Hunting!

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